Inherent Dignity And Worth

In church today we recited some principles of our faith. The first one is the inherent dignity and worth of every human being, indeed every thing in the universe. The reflection included some stuff about the inherent dignity and worth of every person, as well as the need for finding meaning and purpose for life.

Some observations.

  1. It’s an assumption of mine that a lot of (most?) people in the world do not have the luxury of self-reflection or finding meaning and purpose – in their jobs, for instance. It’s a 1st world or 4th quadrant problem. Must have the basics of life going well (i.e., a job that provides for a family) before self-actualization becomes an issue, says the person in weekly therapy. I have the luxury.
  2. I do not feel I have inherent dignity and worth. I feel like a collection of cells that have gone wrong. I have so many medical problems, and bipolar is just the worst one right now. I know you will disagree with me.
  3. Evolutionary science is absolutely amazing, and each thing in the universe is awe-inspiring for how it has evolved to function in so many diverse ways. In living things, in me surprisingly, there is a survival instinct to keep breathing, keep eating, keep sleeping, keep living. It’s what has kept me alive when so close to suicide. I follow this instinct to this day when I can’t see a point in going on.
  4. So I’m in awe of how my personal cells have evolved with billions of microbes to create a living thing. But my genes mutated into a living thing that is not fit for the environment, and I first made the decision and then it was made for me, not to reproduce so that I didn’t pass along any of my (mostly heritable) mutations who would also not be fit for the environment.
  5. I know I’m not giving my body enough credit for adapting as much as it has. Nevertheless, I don’t feel I have inherent worth or dignity. Just a collection of cells not functioning even with modern science working hard.

Sigh.

Bow-Tie Ending

What do you want a bow-tie ending to look like for you? said my therapist. We were talking about the memoir I restarted this week. I struggle with what the take-away should be. Surely it’s not a neatly wrapped bow-tie ending. My moods still cycle. I’m not stable. I still end up in the hospital. Bipolar still defines my activities. So in the book, what’s the message I have?

I decided the take-away is living with bipolar. My story is not nice and pretty. I thought I had an original story from the other bipolar memoirs that are out there because mine is not a neat and tidy ending. I originally thought Acceptance of Bipolar in My Life might be the ending, but I revisit acceptance regularly, as I am again this summer. Acceptance is not the end game.

In real life I don’t think I’d settle for Acceptance of Bipolar in My Life either. That was my gut instinct when my therapist asked. I immediately dismissed the thought however. I want a cure. Or remission. Or years of a stable mood. I want meaningful, compassionate work (paid or volunteer) that gives me a reason to get up in the morning. I want to make a difference in the world. I want to love animals and nature. I want to have friends to enjoy life with. I want to travel.

Accepting bipolar won’t make these possible. A cure, remission or years of a stable mood just might make all of these more possible. So, should I answer the question at the beginning of this post with “a stable mood”? Or is there something more within my power out there? My therapist wants there to be some goal we could work toward. I’m not sure a stable mood is something that is within my power.

Something to Fill the Time

So I’m thinking about that memoir I set aside and picking it back up again. Just for something to do. Maybe a way to put my mental health advocate hat on a little more firmly. I remember taking chapters of that initial draft to a writing critique group and thinking they didn’t understand the memoir genre. So I stopped going. Maybe time to look at those first couple chapters with new eyes? Develop a new plan and start writing?

I spent an hour and a half looking at what I had already written, and blog posts I had inserted to condense down later. Seems like I only got through the first 2 years out of the 7 I’ve lived with the diagnosis and the constant med changes. By looking through blog posts, I filled in the hospitalizations since January 2015 when I stopped the memoir, I guess. Turns out I have been hospitalized 40 times in 7 years. Good grief! I wish it would stop. I wish I wouldn’t feel guilty and embarrassed about the high number. I told my current psychiatrist that it was over 30. Guess I should update him.

So what do YOU think should be in the story of being Suddenly Bipolar? All suggestions welcome!

Updated: Restarting Coping Skills

I’ve spent time with my former post that listed my coping skills. I went through each one and looked with curiosity about what it actually was, asked if it was helpful, and how I felt during it and afterward.

I noticed there were several I don’t use often and several I don’t do well. But I practice them.

Most of the healthy lifestyle ones I feel better when I do them, experiencing an enhanced quality of life. Except exercising. No matter how long or hard I exercise I feel no endorphins, my depression doesn’t lessen long term, and I don’t lose weight. Why do it? Just cuz it’s healthy? Is that part of my values, or just worshipping at the god of wellness? Hmmm… Health is one of my values. And I like to feel and appear strong. At my weight appearing strong is impossible. So I’m left with feeling strong. Which hardly happens with my current strength training plan. Oh well?? I’m a companion to my mom as she spends time in the pool. Basically my only motivation. Should I continue exercising?

Most of my coping skills seem about lessening pain. A few, such as acceptance without judgement of thoughts and emotions, defusing from unhelpful thoughts, and riding the wave of emotion, send me through pain to the other side. So in a way they lessen pain, yet it’s through pain, not avoiding it. Only the daily breathing meditation seems unhelpful. I’m bad at it even after years of practicing. Most people are, a small comfort. It keeps me company as I fall asleep, which the tv could do… I could do a shorter regular meditation at another time. I find those helpful at church. I think I’ll try something else with that one.

So I guess I’ll keep going with all but one coping skill. I’ll tough out the exercise since it keeps my mom company, and a it’s a good time to talk if needed. Theoretically I enjoy the water. I’m not right now. Probably the depression’s anhedonia. And I’m bored easily by it. I’ll change the breathing meditation at bedtime to a regular meditation at another time, and I’ll use the tv as company while I fall asleep.

At least the others I can do more consciously now, knowing they help. On with it!

Restarting Coping Skills

With the limited amount of faith I have in myself (not much), I’m going to follow my therapist’s suggestion to restart my coping skills with curiosity about them and deciding as though from the beginning if they are working for me. I feel like I am doing Everything Possible to manage bipolar. And still functional depression is my baseline mood. I fluctuate from functional depression to regular depression regularly. In August or December or both, I may have a manic episode. Not every year, but with regularity enough to look out for signs of them. But depression is my regular existence.

I feel as though I have no control over my life. Bipolar moods dictate energy, mental ability, cognitive ability, and emotions. Medication has been able to stop the fluctuation among forms of depression, but never out of depression as the baseline. And I’ve had well over 50 med changes in the last 8 years since diagnosis. Medications have sent me spiraling into despair and soaring into mania, but stability has been elusive. I use coping skills and a healthy lifestyle because I am supposed to because they are “good for me,” yet I see no effect on my mood. Since I can’t influence my moods with skills and lifestyle, I don’t think I have control over my moods, and therefore my existence.

With the extremely little hope and faith that I can have an effect on my mood, tomorrow I will beg my new psychiatrist for help on the medication front. I will also follow my therapist’s advice to re-examine coping skills and restart them as though from the beginning. First, I need to list what those skills are. So many come naturally now that I hardly think of them. So a list to remind me.

These are the elements of a healthy lifestyle I practice:

  • A regular bedtime, 8-9 hours of sleep and rising at the same time every day
  • Healthy eating and regular mealtimes
  • Exercise, 30+ minutes 4-5 days a week
  • Social contact at least 2 times a week (could be better, but I have no friends in my current location yet)

These are the coping skills I regularly practice:

  • A breathing meditation every day
  • Deep breathing to manage flare-ups of anxiety and depression
  • Examine recurring thoughts and feelings with curiosity and work to accept them as existing, no judgment
  • Defuse from unhealthy recurring thoughts
  • Ask myself if a course of action is in accord with my values, and take actions that are
  • Distract from moods and anxiety with diversions such as reading, movies, tv and social interaction
  • Distract from escalating emotions with grounding exercises such as paying keen attention to the moment, to sounds, to visual cues, with calming scents and with soothing things to touch
  • Ride the wave of emotions
  • Blog as journaling to help with introspection into what I’m thinking and feeling
  • Spend time with my cat, petting, talking, playing
  • Reach out for support or practical help from friends and family

 

Mania or Depression or Ennui?

I’ve been thinking of going off my meds. Several people have discouraged me from doing it, citing deleterious side effects, including seizures and the inevitable crash. Several have insisted I do so only under a doctor’s supervision. One person reminded me of a med wash I did in the hospital a few years ago, when a doctor took me off all my meds in order to start me on new ones. That was miserable.

Somehow I still feel like I need to go off my meds. It IS something of a gut feeling with no rational logic to it (though my therapist says it is logical – see below). I know that there will be side effects initially. Yet I persist in this belief that it would be a good idea. I’m feeling agitated and frustrated and desperate for a change. I suppose I’m hoping that going off my meds will lead to a manic episode which would be different and life would be exciting again. I miss my old life. A lot.

I finally contacted my therapist, and he immediately called me back after a text. He said it DID sound logical, that in my quest to feel better – to feel like I used to – when I wasn’t on meds – I would rationally think Not being on meds made sense. So maybe I’m not crazy in my ideas? He encouraged me to call my psychiatrist. I explained that he didn’t know me yet after just one visit. He said it would still be a good idea.

So I called my psychiatrist finally. He thought I might be experiencing depression. I have been what I call “slightly depressed” – still functional, not in despair or suicidal, but still feeling lethargic, sad, unhappy with life. So maybe I am more depressed even with this agitation. I was thinking that maybe I was starting to experience some mania or dysphoric mania with the agitation. Or maybe ennui with my dissatisfaction with life and a need for more excitement (hence, inducing a manic episode). But maybe I’m just more depressed. Does it even matter what mood state I’m in?

Oh, and he insisted I stay on my meds. Right. As expected. Same as everyone.

My therapist helpfully returned me to my values and asked what action would be in line with them. This is a major tenet of ACT, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, something that works for me. In my previous post I outlined a few of them, including Health and Independence. For the life of me, I can’t decide which action is more healthy: going off my meds to bring back the more meaningful life I had, or staying on my meds to treat bipolar and keep the life I have, as someone in treatment for life. And which would give me more independence? Not being on meds?

I know you all are going to tell me to stay on my meds or only to go off them with my doctor’s supervision. That’s what I tell everyone too. Stay in treatment! Maybe my meds aren’t working anymore and I need new ones. Maybe I’m in a mood state and I need to remind myself that it is not permanent, none of them have been, and I’ll cycle out of it eventually. I’m choking down the meds right now. I don’t have to. The choice is mine. I don’t know what is in line with my values or even which I fear more, the side effects or staying the way I am.

Time to Move?

I’m struggling against my current living conditions. I’m living with family, supposedly to get more support for my mental illnesses. Instead, my cat is constantly yelled at for something natural to him or locked in a room of his own. I’m living on someone else’s schedule of rising, meals, housework, shopping, medical appointments. My family has a very different worldview, even to not watching the news and having the privilege of staying ignorant of the world. And it is impossible to live with a passive-aggressive parent who was emotionally abusive when I was growing up and now still is, though I ignore it.

I want to move away, possibly back to Chicago where I have a strong support system. Possibly I could move somewhere nearby. Possibly I could take this opportunity to move back to California where my soul abides. And I could see the ocean and forests regularly, something that feeds me.

I’m upset, and so I texted my therapist who told me to breathe, to remember my values, to make a list of pros and cons, and to blog. Thus, I am blogging my values and pros and cons. It helps me to write everything out, in case you couldn’t figure that out from the fact that I have a blog – about myself.

Values: Health, Expressing my compassion, Spirituality of some sort, Purposeful/Meaningful living, Active involvement in world working for justice and peace. I have a hard time coming up with them without the value cards in front of me, but you can really only focus on a few at a time. So having just a few is ok.

Pros of moving: Own space and schedule, Live out my values in my daily life, Take care of my cat in way he needs to be, Use and display my own things and not have them be in storage, Sense of independence (if not obvious from other pros), Can have visitors over and have space to do that

Pros of staying with family: Dinners cooked for me (I do cleaning), Some cleaning done for me, Some support for mental health, Less money every month

Cons of moving: Living solitarily and extra stress on mental health from that, Extra expense right now and every month, Stress of moving on mental health, Extra support needed from non-existent friends or not-local friends

Cons of staying with family: Not my schedule, Living with passive-aggressiveness, No appropriate space for guests, Mean to my cat, Suppressing natural living according to values, All the things important to me in storage

There might be more pros and cons. It’s a hard decision. My heart is pounding. It seems my mental health would be stressed initially, but would ultimately improve with independence? Staying with family is repressing myself but with some support. I don’t know which value is the one to follow. I can’t follow my gut instinct, partially cuz it’s to flee and partially because I can’t trust my brain or gut as discussed in the post “Bipolar Me.” https://suddenlybipolar.com/2018/08/08/bipolar-me

One parent wants to have a Big Family Discussion, with Compromise. Right. Some people are going to get everything they want. As usual. It might be better to move.